Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting, beginning on Friday 21 October, heralds the start of the jumps season proper. The fresh mornings and changing autumn hues add a daily reminder that we have almost returned to that rampantly hopeful starting line in the half-year pursuit of equine glory. Some mourn the loss of summer; I relish the approach of winter.
To get the jumping juices flowing, I humbly offer (for free and without the necessity to call a premium rate number or subscribe to on online scam) my five horses to follow over the coming season. If they do well you can buy me a beer the next time I’m at your local track (look for a large man eating a hog roast with the Racing Post in his back pocket). If they don’t do well, tell a policeman.
1) Black Narcissus – this moody mare first hit my radar when refusing to race at Uttoxeter on Day 2 of my quest to watch racing at all the British courses in an eighty-day window last year. She then bolted up at Exeter three days later at 25/1. Trained by the astute Alexandra Dunn near Taunton, she went on to win three times last season in a dual campaign over both obstacles. I’m convinced the seven-year old needs testing ground over extended distances, so look out for her when it turns wet.
2) Gilgamboa – ran a stormer to finish fourth in the Grand National as an eight-year old, shouldering half a stone more than the three ahead of him on very testing going. The trouble is that Grand National candidates often have restricted seasons, but the McManus-owned gelding has a touch of class (he was only ten lengths behind Vautour in last season’s Ryannair) and is also listed ante-post for the Hennessy and Cheltenham Gold Cups.
3) Vieux Lion Rouge – tough to know whether to include this Pipe-trained French import or his stable companion Un Temps Pour Tout. Whilst the latter hosed up at the Festival and is remarkably consistent (having only finished once outside the top four, in Cole Harden’s World Hurdle) Vieux Lion Rouge gets the nod as he starts this season on a mark of 142, 16 pounds lower than his pal, and will therefore find life a lot easier in the handicaps. He was a revelation since going chasing last summer, and was only found out by the extreme distances of the National Hunt Chase and Grand National. 25/1 for the Welsh National looks attractive.
4) Waldorf Salad – for starters (geddit? Oh it doesn’t matter….) this smart young prospect could be also aimed at the Welsh National, as his wily trainer Venetia Williams knows a thing or two about the race. This could be the year for the strapping eight-year old to mature (he is so exuberant he often has to be mounted out on course, and has a tendency to take the odd fence with him) and fulfill his immense promise.
5) Coneygree – a spectacular novice campaign ended with Gold Cup glory in 2015, a stunning and ruthless performance that had more experienced rivals throwing in the towel a long way from home. It’s a muddled picture for next year’s blue riband with question marks over many of his rivals, and I think that 12/1 is more than fair. He would have to win as a ten-year old but he’s lightly raced and, if fully recovered after injury, it’s quite possible we haven’t yet seen the best of him.